OWINGS MILLS – Growing up in the suburbs of Oklahoma City, Kelly Gregg never thought he would wind up at the most physically grueling position on the football field.
Built low to the ground with a strong lower body made for driving back blockers, though, Gregg was practically born to be a nose guard.
“I wanted to be a linebacker or a running back,” Gregg said with a laugh. “I guess the food table was too good to me. Short and compact, I guess.”
Gregg grew strong and stout and never tall, topping out at barely 6-foot and 320 pounds.
With the leverage of a former prep wrestling champion and the strength to hoist over 500 pounds in the bench press, Gregg has registered more tackles than any interior defensive lineman in the NFL over the past eight years.
In his 11th season, Gregg, 34, has been an everlasting presence in the middle of the Ravens’ defense with 697 tackles since 2002 when he first got established as a full-time starter in Baltimore.
Stocky and perpetually hitching up his uniform pants until they’re near his chest, Gregg has thrived in Baltimore with his blue-collar work ethic and instincts at finding the football.
“It’s been a good ride,” Gregg said. “I feel very blessed, having a lot of fun doing it. Knock on wood, I’m having some luck. Playing defensive line is about pad level leverage. Luckily, I got that built in.”
Never selected to a Pro Bowl, Gregg ranks second in franchise history behind middle linebacker Ray Lewis with 718 tackles.
He has also posted 19 ½ sacks, 12 pass deflections, six fumble recoveries and two forced fumbles.
Gregg has topped the 100-tackle mark four times, which is unheard of for a traditional 3-4 nose guard. In addition to clogging up blockers so Lewis can flow freely to the ball carrier to make the tackle, Gregg is active and aggressive in pursuit.
Beyond his production, it’s impressive that Gregg has managed to survive all these years playing what amounts to a meat grinder position in the middle of the line.
“You always try to find your role on the team and try to do it,” said Gregg, a former All-Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year at Oklahoma. “I’ve had a lot of fun. I’m 34 years old and it’s not like it’s a job. It’s still fun.”
Cut blocks, double-teams and chop blocks come with the rugged territory in the middle of the defensive line as Gregg brawls with much taller, heavier linemen each Sunday.
Traditionally, it’s Gregg who wins these encounters with his quickness and grit.
“Kelly Gregg, he’s an amazing guy,” coach John Harbaugh said. “He’s played all these year in the middle, probably one of the toughest positions in football. He’s not the biggest guy, but there’s nobody that plays with better leverage.
“There’s nobody who understands blocking schemes better. And Kelly is playing at a very high level. He’s playing as well as he ever has. He’s a big part of our defense.”
Gregg’s numbers are down somewhat this season, though.
He ranks ninth on the defense with 36 tackles and has no sacks after recording 64 tackles and three sacks last season.
The Ravens have rotated their defensive line more than usual this season, and Gregg doesn’t have a tackle in four of the past five games.
They drafted former Alabama consensus All-American nose guard Terrence “Mount” Cody in the second round last spring, but Gregg remains the starter.
And he says his surgically-repaired left knee feels better than ever after undergoing microfracture surgery two years ago after having serious cartilage issues.
“I think it’s huge because when they talk about the microfracture, a year to two years is when you really start feeling good,” Gregg said. “I believe in the surgery and getting more time between the surgery and now is major for that kind of procedure. I feel great.”
Signed to a four-year , $20.3 million contract extension in 2007, Gregg is under contract for the next two seasons with $3.5 million base salaries.
At this stage of his career, Gregg would like to continue playing and has no plans to retire.
“I’m still chasing the dream, trying to win it all,” said Gregg, who earned a Super Bowl ring in 2000 on the Ravens’ practice squad. “I’m having a lot of fun and we’ll see what the man upstairs has got in store for me. I take it one day at a time.
“I’d love to keep playing. It’s a grind and I want to be able to play with my kids when I’m older, but I’m healthy. I feel all right, and I’m still having a good time.”